Game 1 of the National League Championship Series took me back to 1988. Now, with the Dodgers falling 1-0 to the Cardinals in Game 2, I’m taken back to the first two games of the 1981 National League Division Series, when the Dodgers followed a 3-1 loss at Houston with a 1-0 defeat.
Back in ’81, the Dodgers returned to Los Angeles knowing they needed to win three straight games against Bob Knepper (2.18 ERA), Vern Ruhle (2.91 ERA) and Nolan Ryan (1.69 ERA) to survive the five-game series and advance. That they succeeded might be small comfort to Dodger fans today, but maybe it’ll provide some hope.
Clayton Kershaw was magnificent this afternoon, but for the second time this week – and much more calamitously – he was victimized by his defense. After a leadoff double by David Freese, A.J. Ellis’ passed ball put the runner on third with nobody out. Kershaw had escaped a similar jam in the first inning, but this time, John Jay hit a one-out short fly to left field, and Freese tagged and scored easily while Carl Crawford made a hopeless throw home that was the spectrum opposite of Carlos Beltran’s Friday strike to nail Mark Ellis.
The big comeback opportunity for the Dodgers game right away in the top of the sixth, and was started by Kershaw, who singled against the otherwise dominant Michael Wacha. Crawford followed with an infield single, and both runners advanced to third on an error by Matt Carpenter. But Mark Ellis popped out, and after an intentional walk to Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig and Juan Uribe struck out.
Puig struck out four times today and is 0 for 10 in the series.
I disagreed with the move to pinch-hit for Kershaw with two out in the top of the seventh and a runner on first, but it could have some long-term benefit for the Dodgers. At the time, it seemed poor because of how low the chances were that Los Angeles would score in that moment, even with a pinch-hitter, and how much more vulnerable the Dodgers would be to giving up a second run over the next three innings.
I would have reconsidered once Nick Punto advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch, but at the time of the move, the Dodgers were relying on singles hitter Michael Young to get the run in. (Crawford, the on-deck hitter, would have been facing a lefty in a fairly grim situation even if Young had gotten aboard.) The alternative would have been Scott Van Slyke, a power hitter but one who hasn’t batted in a game since September 29.
To me, removing Kershaw – who had thrown only 72 pitches and allowed three baserunners in six innings – was more dangerous than removing Adrian Gonzalez was after he had batted in the eighth inning Friday.
Nevertheless, combined with Zack Greinke throwing a fairly modest 104 pitches Friday, there is an opening for the Dodgers to again skip Game 4 starter Ricky Nolasco and come back with their two aces in Games 4 and 5. The theory would be if you win those games, you could go back to St. Louis needing one win to clinch, and then throw the whole staff at the Cardinals over the next two games.
I realize how fanciful that sounds as I type it – especially with Hanley Ramirez’s status questionable – but do keep your mind open. If the Cardinals can win a Joe Kelly-Greinke game, then the Dodgers can win a Hyun-Jin Ryu-Adam Wainwright game. I know it doesn’t look like it, but they can.
The Dodgers are on their heels now and the odds are against them, but there’s nothing to gain from giving up.